The Spanish centre-back – on loan from Flamengo – made his debut during Monday night’s FA Cup win at Portsmouth
Martin Keown believes Pablo Mari must be given more opportunities following his impressive Arsenal debut.
The Spanish centre-back was handed his first Gunners start on Monday night and produced a encouraging showing as Mikel Arteta’s side booked their spot in the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 2-0 win at Portsmouth.
Keown was at Fratton Park on the night and watched on as Mari formed a strong partnership with David Luiz at the heart of the visitors’ defence.
It was the 26-year-old’s first appearance since his January loan move from Flamengo and although Portsmouth offered little in terms of attacking threat, Mari’s composure on the ball and his reading of the game drew plenty of plaudits.
Mikel Arteta singled out his new signing for praise after the game and Keown was also impressed.
“He didn’t have a lot to do apart from his distribution,” the three-time Premier League winner told Goal. “But he won everything when necessary.
“You could see that he was a little bit short of fitness and that they are building him up. He looks to have the basis of a good player there.
“There were important first steps on Monday night, even though he wasn’t tested that much because in the second half Arsenal completely dominated possession – it was a bit of a football lesson for Portsmouth.”
Speaking as an ambassador for the FA and McDonald’s Grassroot Football Awards, Keown added: “I think he looked very solid, he has the height in inches. You look at the stature of the player and he won everything in the air.
“He wasn’t rapid, but was quick enough to deal with all the situations.
“We were playing against a League One side who had a lone striker so he and David Luiz were able to boss him between the two of them.
“I think it was important that he had Luiz alongside him to talk him through the game. Now we have to give him time, he has to be given more opportunities.”
Whether Mari will start against West Ham on Saturday in the Premier League remains to be seen, with Arteta having opted for a partnership of Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi in recent weeks.
The impressive form of the much-maligned Mustafi has been a major talking point in 2020, with the German – whose career at Arsenal seemed to be over when Unai Emery was in charge – enjoying his best run in the side for some time.
Keown believes the 28-year-old deserves real credit for the way he has turned things around, but still feels that ultimately Arteta will want to bring in someone else when the summer transfer window opens.
“In fairness to the player [Mustafi] I do think that he has shown a lot of character and personality in coming back into the team because when you make those kind of errors, I sensed a bit of fear around him,” said the Arsenal legend.
“So all credit to Arteta for giving him another opportunity, but long-term it’s an area where the manager will want to strengthen.”
Former England and Arsenal defender Martin Keown was launching the 2020 McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards, ran in partnership with the four UK FAs. To nominate a grassroots football club or volunteer go to www.mcdonalds.co.uk/awards.